The case of bottled water, used to prop open the front door at 1120 Lake St. in Downtown Oak Park, is what first caught my eye last Thursday afternoon. Inside, three men were engaged in various activities clearly designed to help a store open in the near future.
"Hi guys!" I hollered, stepping inside. "What's this going to be?"
"A Starbucks," one of the men said.
"Get out of here," I replied, aware that Starbucks had moved out of the business district not long ago. "What is it really going to be?"
"Sleepy's," the same man 'fessed up.
This time, I believed it, having sensed that Sleepy's quietly changed gears--but had not entirely abandoned the idea of locating in the community--after some citizens hammered the store last year as a bad fit. Mostly via the local media, those opponents objected to the idea of a mattress store moving into the former Borders space at 1144 Lake St., on the northeast corner of Lake Street and Harlem Avenue.
At that time, although some residents voiced support for any properly zoned business to fill the vacancy created by Borders' 2011 exodus, most of the sentiment was strenuously in opposition.
On Monday, the Oak Leaves, of the Chicago Sun-Times' Pioneer Press chain, broke the story about Sleepy's coming to town anyhow, albeit in a smaller, less-prominent space a few doors to the east of the old Borders spot.
(See the story here at http://oakpark.suntimes.com/2014/06/09/sleepys-lake-street-oak-park/)
In the end, it's evident that Sleepy's brass has substantial evidence to suggest that locating in Oak Park is a profitable venture. Otherwise, they would not have persevered in finding a space, particularly one (the former Lane Bryant clothing store) so close to the original "hot button" site.
In closing, then, here are three public relations-and-marketing observations:
1. Just because online chatter may seem to suggest widespread opposition to your company or cause, the vast majority of people frequently will not have a strong view, either way. So if your market research and other business analysis makes a compelling case for moving forward, let the dogs bark and move ahead with your plans.
2. If this were Sleepy's debut store, it would need to take a much more proactive role in making it case. But this is far from the company's first rodeo: the Hicksville, N.Y.-based outfit has more than 900 retail locations, mostly along the East Coast, and last year opened two stores in Chicago and seven in the suburbs.
So it's no surprise that Sleepy's entry into Oak Park comes with little fanfare. In the wake of the negativity with which it was greeted locally last year, the company appears to have wanted to stay below the radar for as long as possible. There have been no news releases and when the Oak Leaves contacted the company, it did not return calls, at least initially.
It all demonstrates a certain level of self-confidence and unwillingness to get bogged down by any local naysayers.
3. At some point soon, Sleepy's will undoubtedly take steps to share its story. Although much of the backlash has been aimed at the product category Sleepy's represents, and not the company itself, it would be foolish for the operation to stay on the sidelines amid the carping.
This is especially true when you consider that behind the relative few who are extremely loud, there are many more with open minds--and plenty of purchasing power--who will be receptive to the company's story.